Below is a heavily flawed, slapdash list of phases in the life of a Stace Johnson short story.
Most of my short stories don’t even make it past Phase VIII, to be honest. I have three pieces stalled at that spot right now. Other stories make it all the way through Phase XII or XIII, only to never be submitted anywhere. Very few actually make it to publication.
I wanted to get this written down so I can manage my own enthusiasm, productivity, and expectations. Maybe I can even eliminate some of the less beneficial phases by shining this spotlight on them and consciously avoiding them. By mapping out and naming the phases, I hope to be able to identify them as I’m writing, which could help me prepare for, get through, or avoid the times when my enthusiasm is low.
Obviously, this is partially about self-discipline, especially when enthusiasm is low. Hopefully pushing that aspect into the spotlight will help me address it, too.
Writers, what are your story stages, if you have them? How do you make your way through the doldrums when you find yourself caught in them?
Phase I: Brand new story idea! Enthusiasm: high.
Phase II: Obsessive thinking about the setting, characters, and events of the story. Enthusiasm: Still high.
Phase III: Lots of typing, bringing the idea to life for the first time. Words flow pretty easily after the inertia is defeated. Enthusiasm: high, confident, determined.
Phase IV: Brick wall. The words stop flowing, the ideas suddenly seem stupid. Obsession over how to make the stupid ideas seem less stupid, and no productive output. Enthusiasm: no longer high; pretty much nonexistent.
Phase V: Write a poem! Play guitar! Write a song! Do something creative, even if it’s not part of the project. Enthusiasm: rising, but fragile and misdirected.
Phase VI: Possible solution to make the stupid ideas less stupid, obsessive thinking about how to work the solution into the existing text. Possibly some revisionist typing. Enthusiasm: varies as to how good/clever/believable the proposed solution is.
Phase VII: Harsh self judgment about the original (now stupid) idea, self doubt about talent, ability, and aptitude. Enthusiasm: dashed.
Phase VIII: Time away from the project, perhaps devoted to other creative projects. Enthusiasm: meh.
Phase IX: World-solving solution to the stupid ideas appears, casting the story in a more rosy light. Words start dribbling out. Enthusiasm: commensurate with the dribbling.
Phase X: Cruising. With the stupid ideas resolved, words flow again, and the story doesn’t look so bad. Enthusiasm: rising again.
Phase XI: Obsessive writing, close to the end, trying to get it all down in pixels before the enthusiasm dies again or the ideas turn stupid again. Enthusiasm: grim determination.
Phase XII: Completion! A shiny new manuscript has been brought into the world, but it needs to be revised. Leave the story alone for a couple of weeks, then re-read and revise. (Note: This is a dangerous time, because the process could unexpectedly jump back to any prior phase.) Enthusiasm: high, close to the end!
Phase XIII: Peer review. Submit the manuscript to a writing group for feedback and revise it accordingly, making use of the good suggestions and discarding the rest. Enthusiasm: high or low, depending on the feedback from the writing group.
Phase XIV: Submit to writing markets or self-publish. Repeat as often as necessary to get the piece published. Enthusiasm: very high, but dulled with each rejection.